From Input to Output and Outcome
It did not take long to write this down and I can already hear the CEO say: “We assess our people on their performance and not the hours they work”. And in accordance with the terms of every collective bargaining agreement: the number of hours equals the amount of time that people are expected to be productive for the company.
I am talking about knowledge workers, but most of CEOs and lower managers do not even know what their office workers produce. I asked loads of top people directly and they really had no idea. They just did not know. The only things they could come up with were paper, documents or files, but these are merely resources, just like a filing cabinet. The correct answer is of course: INFORMATION. And that can be written on paper or in a digital file, spoken, or in pictures or sound. And best of all: the targeted outcome (does it work?).
Entrepreneurial vision of the network organisation
The reason why projects for introducing the New Way of Working end in failure is that, despite having a good outfitting concept, they are based on obsolete management ideas and usually only half the required tools and resources are put in place before the roll-out. An essential aspect of the New Way of Working is delegating responsibility to achieve a specific amount of production. To do this, time and money have to be made available and a deadline and a standard of quality have to be agreed. With the New Way of Working, the employer is also obliged to give employees the freedom to work within the framework of these conditions in the way they want to and when they want to. Employers operate in this respect as a coach and should not simply state ‘You will do as you are told’, but should provide support, which naturally entails regularly checking time, money, deadlines and the agreed standard of quality, in a way that is steering and not commanding. If employers meet these conditions, the ‘Me Ltds’ they employ will be able to start working. And if all the ‘Me Ltds’ that report to a manager are well run, his or her own ‘Me Ltd’ will also be well run. The ‘Me Ltds’ in a network organisation will start working and utilising all the internal and external resources they need to achieve their goals. We know from nature that individuals are vulnerable. This is the reason we feel so at home in larger groups. Birds of a feather flock together – it’s in our genes. We like belonging to a group – and preferably a really successful group. Success leads to success. Research among students has shown that they perform better when working in groups than when working on their own.
However, senior and middle management have many doubts as to whether people can work without someone keeping an eye on them. If people have always had to work in a herd under the tight leadership of an alpha male/female, it will be difficult for them to adjust and some individuals may never be able to do so. Once upon a time, they were selected for their intelligence and obedience. And embedded obedience is not something that you can speedily change into a willingness to initiate and take risks. Despite this, the New Way of Working has been with us since at least 1996 so there should be enough ‘self-navigators’ around by now.
The upside-down pyramid
The CEO of KLM once said: “We (the top) are there to make the work our flight attendants and ground personnel do easier, better and as productive as possible. We have a facilitative role for the workers. This means the management pyramid should be turned upside-down: we should be at the bottom and the workers at the top. They are the key factor in whether our customers choose to fly with us again”. This principle also applies to all facility organisations. They have to aid the success of the various ‘Me Ltds’ they employ. Longer opening times combined with more flexible working hours, a company canteen so that people no longer have to cook at home, services, accessible information, parking spaces by the door for customers – not for management. Help desks available at times when people have problems; smart cards for accessing and exiting the car park and using equipment outside office hours. The targeted outcome of a facility organisation is an increase in the productivity of knowledge workers. It does not matter if this is achieved through shorter waiting times at the copiers, faster access to the building, information systems that work more efficiently, cleaner toilets, shorter times to return files or a myriad of other little things that all add up and help people improve their work.